The rush of battle

“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” Chris Hedges

The movie The Hurt Locker, opens with that quote on the screen. I saw it yesterday, an excellent movie about a U.S. Army bomb squad, or Emergency Ordinance Disposal team, working in Baghdad, Iraq in 2004. It is a very gripping movie that as Kenneth Turan, a film critic for the LA Times said,  “it simply blows you apart and doesn’t bother putting you back together again”. The movie has been nominated for nine academy awards.

The interactions between the individuals in the bomb squad, and the tense drama as improvised explosive devices are being disarmed, are fascinating. The leader of the unit, Sergeant First Class William James, is a risk taker, a reckless cowboy sometimes putting not only himself but the rest of the unit and innocent bystanders in peril.

After Sgt. James put out a vehicle fire with a 20-pound dry chemical fire extinguisher, and then disarmed a huge bomb in the car’s trunk, an officer called him repeatedly a “Wild Man, a Wild Man”.  At first I was not sure if that was a compliment, but the officer thought it was. He was proud of the Sergeant, while the rest of his unit had been advising him to abandon the rigged car, since everyone had been evacuated from the area and it was much too hazardous to attempt to disarm the bomb in the still-smoking car which could have been detonated at any time by an insurgent with a cell phone.

You may know someone like this in the firefighting profession.

But I hope you don’t.

I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that firefighting is a “potent and lethal addiction”, or is a “drug”, but a person could draw some parallels between warfighting and firefighting.  Well, on second thought, it might be a potent addiction, while being occasionally lethal, unfortunately.

"Safety" or "risk management" in wildland fire?

The Colorado Fire Camp sent out a message from their Twitter account to their 101 followers on October 21 which said:

#OSHA vs. wildfire agencies: Safety & Health no longer goal of #NWCG structure, new focus on risk management 2:50 PM Oct 21st from TweetDeck

To say that safety and health are no longer goals of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) seemed rather surprising, so I went to the link, which leads to an organization chart showing the Committees of the NWCG.


A portion of the chart is shown here on the right. As you can see, the organization is changing. The “Safety and Health Working Team” is becoming the “Risk Management” committee, and the “Incident Operations Standards Working Team” is merging with the “Training Working Team” to become the “Operations and Workforce Development” committee.

To say that “safety and health is no longer a goal” of the NWCG is misleading at best. And yes, the term “safety” in the organization chart has been replaced with “risk management”. But that does not mean that “safety and health is no longer a goal”.

Here are some definitions of the term “risk management”.

  • Risk Management is the identification, assessment, and prioritization of risks followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability and/or impact of unfortunate events.
  • The process of determining the maximum acceptable level of overall risk to and from a proposed activity, then using risk assessment techniques to determine the initial level of risk and, if this is excessive, developing a strategy to ameliorate appropriate individual risks until the overall level of risk is reduced to an acceptable level.
  • Risk management is the active process of identifying, assessing, communicating and managing the risks facing an organization to ensure that an organization meets its objectives.
  • The technique or profession of assessing, minimizing, and preventing accidental loss to a business, as through the use of insurance, safety measures, etc. Origin: 1960–65.

I exchanged some email messages with Michelle Ryerson, the fire safety program manager for the Bureau of Land Management, the current chair of the Safety and Health Working Team, and interim chair for the Risk Management Committee. I asked about the reason for the changes and she said the name change better reflects their approach to safe and effective fireline operations. The reorganization of the NWCG gave the groups an opportunity to change the names, encompassing a more comprehensive programmatic approach.

“We are in the process of converting over”, she said, “but have not been officially chartered under the new title of ‘Risk Management Committee’ (mission will remain the same) — plan to have conversion happen early spring of 2010 and will make note of it on our website”.

I asked what the effect of the change would be on firefighters. She responded: Continue reading “"Safety" or "risk management" in wildland fire?”

Lessons learned from an air tanker pilot during 40-year career

This excellent video is described like this:

Lessons Learned from Air Tanker Pilot Bill Waldman

For 40 eventful years, chief pilot Bill Waldman supported wildland fire suppression activities by making more than 13,000 retardant drops on fires in practically every state in this country, including Alaska, Canada, and Mexico. In this interview, Captain Waldman shares valuable insights gained from his extensive career—and provides priceless advice to pilots just beginning theirs’.

We appreciate Mr. Waldman sharing some of the things he has learned. Many of them can be translated to fire suppression on the ground as well as in the air.


Gas strut explosion, Sacramento vehicle fire

The Sacramento Fire Department issued a “green sheet” that summarizes an interesting development that occurred during the suppression of a vehicle fire on September 26. Two gas struts that assist in opening the hood exploded, propelling the struts out the front of the vehicle. Both struts struck a garage door. One made a hole in the door and bounced off. The other penetrated the door and became embedded, leaving only about three inches of the strut exposed, making a one inch hole in the door.

Thankfully, the burning vehicle was parked one or two feet from a garage, making it impractical for the firefighters to make their attack from the front, which is not advised anyway due to the possibility of gas shock absorbers being in the front bumper assembly.

You never know for sure where these gas struts can be in a vehicle. They can also be found in rear hatch doors or the rear windows on SUV’s.
Photos from Sacramento FD Green Sheet

On January 29, 2009 we posted a video of what was probably the front bumper exploding off the front of a burning car. That is HERE.

As Sgt. Phil Esterhaus said, “Let’s be careful out there”.

Lesson learned, flare launching

A firefighter was injured while using a flare sold by FireQuick.

The FireQuick company, sometimes referred to as Quoin, sells a launcher that is a modified starter pistol which fires .22 caliber blank cartridges. You place the flare, which looks a little like a short fusee, into the oversized barrel. When the cartridge fires, it propels the flare and ignites a 4-second fuse. The flare they call the Hotshot will travel about 300-325 feet according to the company. The FireQuick web site includes this statement about the Hotshot flare:

This flare is to be launched only and is NEVER to be ignited by hand; serious injury may occur if hand-ignition is attempted.

FireQuick imageFireQuick makes two kinds of flares that can be launched: the Stubby (see below) and the Hotshot. They also make hand-thrown flares they call “Big Shot” and “Chubbie”.

The following lesson learned, posted HERE, raises a lot of questions.



FireQuick’s Hotshot flare

Date & Time: August 7, 2009
Location: Bear Canyon, San Carlos Agency BIA
Employee: Firefighter
Reason: Suppressing Wildland Fire

A firefighter was injured using a Hotshot flare which ignited in their hand after the fuse was lit.  The firefighter is ok at this time, but has sustained burns on his left fingers and palm.  The firefighter was not wearing gloves at the time when the incident occurred.

Lesson(s) Learned:

  • Always wear required Personal Protective Equipment; eye protection, gloves, ear protection, long-sleeve shirt (sleeves rolled down) and pants.  Clothing must be approved flame resistant fabric.
  • Wear leather non-gauntlet gloves to prevent burning slag from touching your skin.
  • If cap of flare comes loose or falls off discard in burn area and let others know of location.
  • This flare is to be used only with the firequick launcher and NEVER ignited by hand as serious injury may occur if hand-ignition is attempted.
  • Develop JHA for this device and ensure others review it before using this type of firing device.


The document does not explain how the flare came to be in the firefighter’s hand. Was it a mis-fire that they removed from the launcher, or were they trying to use the flare without the launcher by holding it in their hand?

Does anyone have any experience using one of these Hotshot flares without the launcher? has some photos of a launcher that shattered when a rocket scientist attempted to launch a fusee in the device.

“Retired Flares”

The FireQuick web site has some interesting information about “retired flares”. Their 2.5-inch flares that exceed the 3-year shelf life “should be recognized as a potential for unusually energetic behavior”. The Dual-Stubby flare only launched about 80% of the time.

The “Stubby” flare

Here is a photo of the “Stubby” which is launched from a launcher having a larger diameter barrel.

Stubby flare
“Stubby” flare

Emergency vehicle visibility study

In August a report titled “Emergency Vehicle Visibility and Conspicuity Study” was released by the United States Fire Administration in partnership with the International Fire Service Training Association. Here is an excerpt from a summary by Firehouse.

The report from the feds suggests that a lot more could be done to improve passive vehicle visibility and conspicuity. Best practices in emergency vehicle visibility, including cutting edge international efforts, are detailed in the study. Retroreflective striping, chevrons, high-visibility paint, built-in passive lighting and other reflectors for law enforcement patrol vehicles, fire apparatus, ambulances, EMS vehicles and motorcycles are all covered in the report.

Active warning systems, like lights and sirens, are part of a separate federal study and are not included in the August USFA report.

Tutterow is hoping the report catches news media attention and it gains some much needed publicity. He’s also hoping it lasts more than one news cycle.

“Drivers today have too many distractions,” Tutterow said. “They have cell phones, they’re texting, they’re using GPS navigation systems, and they’re using sound systems. They are paying attention to everything but what is in front of them.”

That’s why Tutterow subscribes to a sort of “in-your-face” approach when it comes to retroreflective material and visibility aids.

“I’m not sure that there is such a thing as overkill when it comes to retroreflective material,” he said.

The yellow and red chevron stripping on the backs of apparatus is an example of how something relatively simple and cost effective can have a dramatic affect on responder safety. New apparatus, to be National Fire Protection Association compliant, must have at least 50 percent of the rear body covered with chevron stripping. Tutterow’s hoping emergency responders will see the value and retrofit existing response vehicles to the standard.

Thanks Dick